Wonderful Town

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For the movie by Aditya Assarat, see Wonderful Town (film). For the variety television series, see Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town.
Wonderful Town
2003 Revival Logo
Music Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Book Joseph A. Fields
Jerome Chodorov
Basis Joseph A. Fields's and Jerome Chodorov's play My Sister Eileen
Productions 1953 Broadway
1986 West End
2003 Broadway revival
2006 Non-Equity U.S. Tour
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical

Wonderful Town is a musical (1953), book written by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Leonard Bernstein. Its origins fundamentally come from the collection of autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney published in The New Yorker three years following the incidents portrayed where she and her acting bound sister seek out success from their basement apartment of New York City's Greenwich Village. Fields and Chodorov's My Sister Eileen (1940 play) is based on the book and the musical results from the play. The only shared aspects of the book and the 1953 musical play plot are the two final two stories in the book which are heavily modified. The stories also served as the basis of two films and a television series.

Wonderful Town premiered on Broadway in 1953, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and spawned three New York City Center productions between 1958 and 1966, a 1986 West End production and 2003 Broadway revival. It is a lighter piece than Bernstein's later works, West Side Story and Candide, but none of the songs have become as popular.


Act I

During the summer of 1935 in Greenwich Village, New York, a tour guide leads a group of sightseers on a tour of "Christopher Street" and its colorful and interesting citizens.

When the tourists have departed, the witty Ruth Sherwood arrives in Greenwich Village with her beautiful younger sister, Eileen. The two have just arrived from Columbus, determined to forge a life in the big city as a writer (Ruth) and an actress (Eileen). Soon they are living in a basement apartment, recently vacated by Violet, loaned by the "loveable" landlord, Mr. Appopolous. Their apartment building is shaken frequently by dynamite from the construction of a subway underneath them as well as Violet's returning customers. The sisters are soon stricken with homesickness for "Ohio".

The next morning, Ruth and Eileen set out to try their hand at "Conquering New York", only to find defeat and humiliation. Eileen, at least, has gotten food from a food samples man, as well as Mr. Valenti, but has also met Frank Lippencott, a local Walgreens manager who has developed a crush on her. Ruth, however, is left to wonder at her sister's magnetic appeal and her own unique romantic abilities; a talent for repelling men so successful that she could write a book entitled "One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man".

Eventually, Ruth talks her way into the offices of a short story magazine, where she meets Bob Baker. Bob likes Ruth, but advises her that she has little chance of success, and tells her flat out "What A Waste" of money and time it was to come to New York, because he along with many others have done the same thing. Undaunted, Ruth leaves three stories with Bob in the hope that he will read them.

Meanwhile, Eileen has been eating all of her lunches free at Walgreens, and finds herself "A Little Bit In Love" with Frank, and invites him over to dinner so Ruth can have free lunches when she goes to Walgreens, too. Bob arrives at the apartment, looking for Ruth, and Eileen invites him over for dinner as well. The phone rings, and it is Chick Clark, a newspaper editor, whom Eileen met in an elevator, wanting to see Eileen.

The upstairs neighbors, Wreck, an out-of-season American football player, and his live-in lover, Helen, ask the girls to hide Wreck while Helen's mother, Mrs. Ella Wade is in town, because Mrs. Wade does not yet know about Wreck. Eileen happily agrees to stow him in their apartment, much to Ruth's hesitation. Wreck describes his lucky history as a student at Trenton Tech, who got by very well only because of his ability to "Pass The Football".

Eileen has invited Frank Lippencott, Bob Baker, and Chick Clark, a slimy newspaper scribe whom she has met with the object of furthering Ruth's career, over for potluck supper. Unaware of each other's feelings, both women find themselves attracted to Bob. Soon, all five of them are seated around the cramped apartment trying to fill the awkward silence in "Conversation Piece". Meanwhile, Helen deals with her overbearing and exaggerated mother.

Ruth and Bob talk over the quality of her stories, and he advises her to write about what she knows rather than flights of fancy. Both say several wrong things, and he finally tells her off. He soon regrets it as Ruth rushes inside in tears, and Bob is left to sing of his inability to find "A Quiet Girl" to love.

While all this is happening, anxious to be alone with Eileen, Chick Clark creates a bogus assignment for Ruth. He sends her off to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to interview a group of Brazilian navy cadets. She quickly realizes that their sole interest is to learn and dance the "Conga". The sailors follow Ruth home, where the girls soon find themselves in chaotic confusion, as all the citizens of Christopher Street join the conga line in a finale. Ruth runs into Bob and gives him a piece of her mind, while Eileen is hauled off to jail for causing the riot.

Act II

In the local jail Eileen finds herself practically running the place, with Officer Lonigan and his brigade of doting Irish police officers at her beck and call. Given her name, they are convinced that she is Irish, and they serenade her with "My Darlin' Eileen", and are not the least discouraged and continue to sing when she says she is, in fact, not Irish. Ruth comes to assure her that she will bail her out as soon as she collects the money from her new job as a promoter for the Village Vortex, a local nightclub. At the club, Ruth "digs the rhythm" of "Swing". Meanwhile, Wreck is awkwardly masquerading as a wealthy art collector to meet Helen's mother's approval, and Chick is frantically calling Eileen, trying to make things right.

Thanks to Bob, Eileen is soon released from jail, and the sisters learn that Appopolous has been so scandalized by a missing picture that he painted (that was actually stolen and sold for $2 by Helen and Wreck for Wreck to stay at the Y) and Eileen's arrest, that he has threatened to evict them. Eileen discovers that Ruth is also attracted to Bob Baker, and the two of them wish, for a moment, that they had never left home, reprising "Ohio". Eileen is then confronted by the rhythmical Speedy Valenti, owner of the Village Vortex (the night club), who gives her her New York debut as a singer because her fame has reached the front page of the news. Appopolous immediately changes his tune now that one of his tenants has a paying job, and extends their lease.

Eileen soon learns that Bob Baker has quit his job as a result of a disagreement with his boss about Ruth's story on the Brazilian sailors. Eileen is thrilled that Bob quit his job and assures the unbelieving Bob that "It's Love" that he feels for Ruth. Bob, faced with the facts, hesitantly realizes the truth: it is love.

The mood at the Vortex turns jazzy with the "Ballet At The Village Vortex". Eileen finds herself with a case of stage fright and she convinces Ruth to join her on stage to sing the "Wrong Note Rag". Chick arrives to make amends and presents Ruth with a press pass: his boss has read her story about the Brazilian sailors and loved it, and given Ruth a job to take on the following Monday. The Vortex is alive with singing and dancing, and Bob decides it is the perfect moment to let Ruth know how he feels. The curtain closes as Eileen and the guests at the club sing "It's Love" along with everyone in a finale in celebration of Ruth and Bob's new found affection.

Musical numbers[edit]

Production history[edit]


Debuted on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre (February 25, 1953; closing, July 3, 1954; 559 performances): George Abbott (director), Donald Saddler (choreography), Robert Fryer (producer).[1]

Broadway Cast 1953[edit]

Rosalind Russell Ruth Sherwood Carol Channing replaced Russell for the final 6 months or so of the original Broadway production.
Edith Adams Eileen Sherwood
George Gaynes Robert (Bob) Baker
Jordan Bentley Wreck
Cris Alexander Frank Lippencott
Dort Clark Chick Clark
Henry Lascoe Appopolous
Ted Beniades Speedy Valenti
Michele Burke Helen

Revival (2003) opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (November 23, 2003; closed on January 30, 2005; 497 performances): Kathleen Marshall (director/choreographer).[2]

Broadway Revival cast 2003[edit]

Donna Murphy Ruth Sherwood Brooke Shields replaced Murphy
Jennifer Westfeldt Eileen Sherwood --
Gregg Edelman Robert (Bob) Baker
Raymond Jaramillo McLeod Wreck
Peter Benson Frank Lippencott
Michael McGrath Chick Clark
David Margulies Appopolous
Stanley Wayne Mathis Speedy Valenti
Nancy Anderson Helen

New York City Center[edit]


Nancy Walker (1958)
Kaye Ballard (1963)
Elaine Stritch (1966)

City Center Encores! staged concert (May 2000): Kathleen Marshall (director/choreographer), Donna Murphy (Ruth) and Laura Benanti (Eileen). Reception: "some of the best reviews the in-concert series has seen in some time, with particular praise being doled out for star Donna Murphy."[3]

Other productions[edit]

Martha Raye, Eve Arden, Nanette Fabray, Lauren Bacall (1978), Lucie Arnaz and many others played Ruth in Stock companies. A Non-Equity National Tour was presented by Music Theatre Associates in 2006 and 2007.

1st National Touring Cast (2006)[edit]

Deborah Lynn Ruth Sherwood
Allison Berry Eileen Sherwood
Matthew Sean Callahan Robert (Bob) Baker
Rockford Sansom Wreck
Trey Mitchell Frank Lippencott
Joshua Gunn Chick Clark
Saum Eskandani Appopolous
Will Mann Speedy Valenti replaced by Chris Anthony Giles
Chris Anthony Giles Speedy Valenti replaced Will Mann
Sarah Roussos Helen


Wonderful Town opened February 25, 1955 at The Prince's Theatre, running for 207 performances with Pat Kirkwood as Ruth, Shani Wallace as Eileen, and Sid James as Wrack. The musical was produced by Jack Hylton with Cyril Ornadel as music director.[4] Wonderful Town opened in the West End at the Queen's Theatre in August 1986 and closed March 1987 at the Watford Palace, with Maureen Lipman (Ruth) and Emily Morgan (Eileen). In 2012 the Hallé Concerts Society, the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and The Lowry, Salford Quays, mounted a joint production. It ran at the Lowry from 31 March to 21 April, for the first two weeks with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder, then with the production's Musical Director James Burton conducting a 17-piece orchestra featuring some Hallé musicians.[5] It then toured the UK until 7 July. The cast included Connie Fisher (Ruth), Lucy van Gasse (Eileen) and Michael Xavier (Bob).


Wonderful Town premiered on May 25, 2008 at the Shaw Festival in Niagara On The Lake, Ontario.[6]


On November 30, 1958, CBS Television broadcast a live special of the musical, with Rosalind Russell (Ruth Sherwood), Jackie McKeever (Eileen Sherwood), Sydney Chaplin (Bob Baker), and Jordan Bentley (the Wreck).[7]


Though there have been only two major Broadway productions of Wonderful Town, many recordings of the music have been made over the years.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1953 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Rosalind Russell Won
Best Choreography Donald Saddler Won
Best Conductor and Musical Director Lehman Engel Won
Best Scenic Design Raoul Pène Du Bois Won
Theatre World Award Edie Adams Won

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1986 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Maureen Lipman Nominated

2003 Broadway revival[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2004 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Jennifer Westfeldt Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Kathleen Marshall Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Raymond Jaramillo McLeod Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Kathleen Marshall Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Won
Outstanding Set Design John Lee Beatty Nominated
Theatre World Award Jennifer Westfeldt Won


  1. ^ " 'Wonderful Town' Listing" playbillvault.com, accessed January 11, 2014
  2. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Full Cast of Broadway's Wonderful Town Announced" playbill.com, September 22, 2003
  3. ^ Simonson, Robert and Jones, Kenneth."Encores!' Wonderful Town May Have Future", playbill.com, May 17, 2000
  4. ^ Issuu Mag. London Musicals: Years 1955/59"
  5. ^ http://www.halle.co.uk/news.aspx?News_ID=10042&FriendlyID=Wonderful-Town-opens-at-The-Lowry
  6. ^ Ouzounian, Richard." 'Wonderful Town': Just shy of wonderful" thestar.com, May 26, 2008
  7. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Museum of Television & Radio Offers Original Russell 'Wonderful Town', Dec. 26-Jan. 4" playbill.com, December 23, 2003

See also[edit]


External links[edit]